The Florida legislature's Joint Legislative Auditing Committee wants to know whether the Leon County School District has made changes to construction policies that resulted in dozens of projects not competitively bid. Lawmakers say they won't seek a review of legal fees paid as a result of ongoing investigations.
The Leon County School District received 28 audit findings relating to construction policies under Superintendent Jackie Pons. In 2013 documents alleging Pons steered lucrative construction contracts to construction companies which contributed to his campaign were delivered to several local news outlets. Former Lively Technical Center Principal Woody Hildebrandt and school district administrator Rocky Hanna later stepped forward as whistle-blowers.
Several follow-up audits and probes found no criminal wrongdoing, but noted that awarding projects just under $2 million (a cap that triggers a competitive bid) skirted state laws. The district is still mired in a federal probe of the projects because some were funded with federal dollars.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, requested a follow up audit to see whether the district is implementing changes it made to construction policies in the wake of the findings.
Attorney Tim Jansen, who represents both Hildebrant and Hanna says while he considers the superintendent a friend, "Pons hasn't answered questions" about the contracts. Jansen also questioned the district's expenditures on legal fees. But Sen. Rob Bradley says that's something all local governments have the authority to do.
"I too have worked for local governments and people make allegations. If you do something criminal you should be responsible for your attorney fees. But until one concludes that, then I don't think it’s improper. They may cut a bad deal with a law firm, but it’s not improper for a governmental entity to hire lawyers for their individuals during the course of an investigation."
Such fees would still be subject to an audit, but wouldn't be the focus.
Fallout from the construction probe continues.
Former school board member Forrest Van Camp lost his re-election bid and current school board member Dee Dee Rasmussen is facing two challengers. One is disability rights advocate Patrick Cannon, the other is Tallie Gainer III. Longtime school board member Dee Crumpler isn’t seeking re-election.
Pons is now facing three challenges for the superintendent job. City Commissioner and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox, Hanna, and Michael Wynn are seeking the seat.